Thursday, August 13, 2020

Baby's First Backpacking Trip

At first glance, the Thurston Griggs Trail to Appalachian Trail to Black Rock route hardly looks like a must-do bit of trekking. But this past weekend it served as the setting for an audacious expedition: Baby's First Backpacking Trip.

In a normal year, I'd be itching to take a summer backpacking trip. But this year, with the pandemic keeping us at home, and a 6 month old baby I was eager to share the wonder of nature with, I found the pull of getting out on the trail even stronger. But how to do it?

First off, I'd needed to establish that we could carry the gear to have a proper overnight. I gathered up a tent, a sleeping bag for Shira, inflatable sleeping pads and a few other odds and ends. I shoved them into my 65 liter Gregory Backpack. I eyed the space left over. I'd need to fit in clothes for the Baby and Shira, food for all of us, diapers and plenty of water for making bottles. Yes, I decided it could be done.

But that's not all that needed to be carried. What about the little guy himself? At nearly 25 pounds, we decided that a robust carrier would make all the difference. So we picked up the deluxe Osprey Poco Plus. Like all Osprey packs, this is a thing of beauty. We put the little man it in for a walk through the neighborhood. At first he squirmed, and then got comfortable. We did our walk with him in and it was a success. Hurray, the gear was covered.

Now we needed a route. On one hand, we wanted one close by. On the other, we wanted a location that wouldn't be overrun with people on a weekend. We poured over our options and decided on the Thurston Griggs Trail to Appalachian Trail to Black Rock trip outlined on All Trails. The Thurston Griggs trail was far enough away from the popular Annapolis Rocks trail head, that we hoped it wouldn't be parked up. The trail itself called for an uphill slog that passed by a campsite. That meant that we could hike in, setup camp, and then do some additional hiking on the AT if we felt up to it. On paper, it looked like a solid choice.

The morning of our trip I cataloged the major ways this little project could fail, and possible work-arounds. The weather could take a turn for the worse. The parking lot could be full. The trail could be too technical to safely navigate with a baby in carrier. The campsites could be filled by the time we arrived. And those were just the obvious fail points.

To my amazement and joy, everything went precisely to plan. There was plenty of space to park the car. The schlep up Thurston Griggs trail was relatively steep and rocky, but not at all technical, so we had no problem making our way up the trail. When we arrived at Pogo Memorial Campground we found a couple of campers there. But we also found a half dozen empty sites. We picked one out of the way and setup our tent. Even the weather cooperated, with my Garmin InReach reporting 0% chance of precipitation for the next 24 hours.

After setting up our tent and letting the little guy play around the campsite he started to show signs of being tired. We put him in the carrier and we continued up the trail, this time on the official Appalachian Trail, up to Black Rock overlook. The view was spectacular, the kid fell asleep, and I got to relish in the joy of being in the backcountry.

When we returned to the campsite, I made a fire and Shira perfectly roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Our little one sat in the grass playing. By the time dinner was cleaned up, it was time to put the little one to bed. I did this by putting him in the Moby wrap and taking him on a stroll along the AT. Rather than listen to music, I droned on about the joy of backpacking and he was asleep in no time.

By 8:30pm we were all asleep in the tent, we'd closed out an amazing day.

We'd stay in our little bubble of bliss for all of 4 hours. At around midnight the little guy awoke for a snack. Shira fed him by the red light of her headlamp, which was a bit surreal. I then put him back in the Moby and we roamed the pitch black campground as I put him to sleep. He eventually drifted off to bed. I made my way back to the tent, took him out of the Moby and put him on his sleeping pad. Moments later, he was awake. Ugh. It took us about 3 hours and 3 more attempts to actually get him fully back to sleep.

What I remember most was the look of wonder on his face as he stared up at the night sky. It was dark, but against the pitch black sky you could clearly make out the trees. I could see the little gears in his spinning as he tried to make sense of the scene.

Between attempts to put him sleep, I managed to experiment with some cellphone night-sky photography. While the photos may not appear like much, I'm impressed at how they came out. All told, it was actually quite nice to be up and exploring the area in the middle of the night.

After getting him back to sleep, we all slept in until 7am. We packed up our campsite and slowly trudged down the mountain back to our car. We met some locals on the way who confirmed what we suspected: the nearby Annapolis Rocks parking area fills up by mid-day, but the Thurston Griggs Trail Head always has parking. Keep that little tip in mind if you want to explore the area.

Before I knew it, we were back at the car and within spitting distance of DC. My little backpacking adventure was complete. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. If anything it went too well. Now I'm itching to get out for two nights!


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